NEWTON — The ability of city staff to review minor projects to improve historic properties in the city of Newton is in a bit of jeopardy, though the city believes there is action to take and a path forward — but that path could mean saying goodbye to the Historic Preservation Commission.
“That would be a nice customer service aspect,” said Kelly McElroy, assistant city manager. “It would be nice for city staff to say ‘yes, this qualifies’ when they are taking a building permit.”
The problem arose in September, when the State Historic Preservation Office found a lapsed agreement between Newton and North Newton. In September 2019 the State Historic Preservation Office notified City of Newton staff that the agreements between the cities of Newton and North Newton and the State Historic Preservation Office that allow reviews of proposed projects to be reviewed by local administrative staff and preservation commissions had lapsed.
The current agreement was authorized in March 2014 for a period of five years.
That agreement, referred to as the Certified Local Government agreement, was originally authorized by the cities of Newton and North Newton in 1998.
Neither Newton nor North Newton has budgeted funds sufficient for continuation of the current agreement.
"This is a victim of budget pressures," said Bob Myers, Newton city manager. "We have been under considerable pressure to limit our budget and limit mill levy increases if we can. This is a casualty of that."
The option of retaining the function of conducting administrative reviews require staff time, however Newton City staff said it is not believed to be beyond what can be handled through the approved budgets.
“What we are losing we have already lost,” said Commissioner Barth Hague. “That was when we made some staff reconfigurations and we no longer pursued active community engagement around historic properties. We did not do training, we have not had events and we have not promoted our historic properties ... It is a shame. The Historic Preservation in the past has been the overseer of our historic assets, which I think we would agree as a community have been important to us. But we are at a point where we cannot sustain it.”